Covering an area larger than that of the USA, Canada is the second biggest country in the world with great distances between some of the major cities. While it does have the 5th largest rail network in the world (in terms of track length), air travel is still the most popular and practical way to get around in many cases. In this post, we’re going to look at the busiest airports in Canada.
Data comes from this article which details the passenger traffic at every major airport in Canada in 2019 and 2020. Figures are rounded up or down to the nearest 100,000 in all cases. The five busiest airports below are ranked by 2019 figures, the last year when air travel was something like “normal”.
The Busiest Airports in Canada by Passenger Numbers
1. Toronto Pearson International Airport
Comfortably the busiest airport in Canada is Toronto Pearson. It serves as the main entry port, not just for Canada’s largest city but the country as a whole with an extensive range of international connections. From Toronto, you can fly to just about every major city in North America, most major European capitals while there are even long-haul connections to distant Asian cities such as Hong Kong, Delhi, Beijing, Tokyo and São Paulo with Air Canada the main long-haul carrier.
Toronto Pearson served more than 50 million passengers in 2019, making it the 32nd busiest airport in the world. Most of the airport is situated in the city of Mississauga, well clear of downtown Toronto. It has no fewer than five runways which makes it well placed to cope should there be any increase in demand for air travel in the coming years. Terminal 2 was demolished in 2007 with an expanded Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 both still operational and handling both domestic and international services.
Passengers in 2019: 50.5 million
2. Vancouver International Airport
The main port of entry into Western Canada, Vancouver International is sometimes in the conversation when it comes to the best airports in the world, or at the very least the best in North America. Canada’s second busiest airport, flying in and out of Vancouver is usually a relatively hassle-free experience.
The airport is situated on Sea Island, to the south of Downtown Vancouver. It has numerous cross-Pacific services with some of the fastest connections between North America and the Far East. Tokyo can be reached in about 10 hours for example with the return journey less than 9 hours and there are around 10 flights per week connecting the Japanese capital with Vancouver. It also has more direct flights to China than any other North American or European city making it a really important hub for trans-pacific travel.
Passengers in 2019: 26.4 million
3. Montréal–Trudeau International Airport
Another of the 4 main hubs in Canada that rank amongst the busiest airports in North America is Montreal. It served 20 million passengers in 2019 and recorded the biggest rise in passenger numbers on the previous year of any of the ten busiest airports in Canada.
The city of Montréal has had an interesting history when it comes to air travel. The original Montreal Saint-Hubert Longueuil Airport is still operational and ranks as the 15th busiest in Canada by aircraft movements. Montréal–Trudeau (previously known as Dorval Airport) emerged as the main passenger hub for the city after it opened in 1941 but it suffered something of a decline during the latter part of the 20th Century as many services were transferred to the new Mirabel Airport (opened in 1975).
Montréal–Mirabel was the largest in the world in terms of surface area but for a variety of reasons, the anticipated growth in demand for air travel never materialised and the airport itself became something of a white elephant with all international services eventually reverting back to the more conveniently located Trudeau Airport in 1997.
Passengers in 2019: 20.3 million
4. Calgary International Airport
Calgary International is thought to be the biggest airport in Canada by size (some sources list this to be Edmonton) with its four runways and two terminals spread out across an area of more than 5,000 acres. It serves as the main entry port for the city and state of Alberta as well as the popular Banff National Park which attracts large numbers of international visitors.
Its status as a major destination for skiing and winter sports does mean that some of its international flights are only seasonal though. During other periods, you can find the odd direct service to European cities such as London and Frankfurt, but it’s an airport that largely caters to domestic travel and flights within North America. Even so, Calgary is generally regarded to be one of Canada’s four main air hubs and during the pandemic-hit year of 2020, it actually served more passengers than Montréal–Trudeau.
Passengers in 2019: 18 million
5. Edmonton International Airport
Finally, we head to Edmonton, the second largest city in Alberta after Calgary. This is a fraction younger than most of the major international airports in Canada, having only opened in 1960. For much of its history, Edmonton International had to compete with Edmonton City Centre Airport but the latter was finally closed in 2013 after years of legal wrangling and public votes on the matter.
While its passenger numbers are significantly less than the big four, Edmonton does serve a real use for many Canadians living in the more isolated regions such as Northern British Columbia, Yukon, the Northwest Territories and western Nunavut, as well as obviously the city of Edmonton itself and central and northern parts of Alberta.
Passengers in 2019: 8.2 million
Top 10 busiest airports in Canada – ranked by 2020 Passenger Numbers
|Airport||Passengers (2020)||Passengers (2019)|
|Toronto Pearson||13.3 million||50.5 million|
|Vancouver||7.3 million||26.4 million|
|Calgary||5.7 million||18 million|
|Montréal–Trudeau||5.4 million||20.3 million|
|Edmonton||2.6 million||8.2 million|
|Ottawa Macdonald–Cartier||1.4 million||5.1 million|
|Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson||1.3 million||4.5 million|
|Halifax Stanfield||1 million||4.2 million|
As was the case across the world, 2020 witnessed a huge drop in air traffic figures compared to the previous year. Many of Canada’s biggest airports saw over a 70% reduction in passenger numbers and it will take some time for passenger levels to reach the 2019 highs.
Away from the five busiest airports in Canada listed above, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Halifax also have reasonably sized airports offering some international services. Kelowna and Victoria in British Columbia are also referenced as international airports although in reality, the only overseas connections are to nearby Seattle in the northwestern United States.
This post was published in September 2021.